People buy meaning not product

A little while ago I was talking to the Marketing Director of one of the leading consumer goods companies here in Europe and we began talking around his question “where does design fit in innovation and consumer goods?”

I started this with posing the premise back “What do things really mean?”  For example we need to have a clear vision of what good food means to us. We need to seek out and define a new meaning through, perhaps, design. So the question then became “how do you give meaning to things?” We innovate by making sense of these things- “People don’t buy product they buy meaning”

That stopped him in his tracks. He had not given this the necessary thought it required. I then went on and suggested “people are searching for re-invigorating their experiences” The emotional experience, especially in cooking or preparing a meal becomes increasingly the relationship and association with a moment of affection, a memory or statement. Designing this attachment into your product can happen in multiple ways.

“How do we trigger emotions?” “How do we evoke emotional attachment?”  One really significant route is through design. We see this in many products or services we want to ‘own or experience’ and design is a hugely critical factor. We can separate ourselves from our competitors through this association of a uniquely designed product or service. We compete as everyone else does, in common distribution methods, routes to market (although this might not always be the case) and often in similar product or service offerings. It is the emotional design that breaks through this and creates often the winning difference.

Today design is on the cusp of altering many of today’s present innovation practices or approaches. The profession and ascendancy of designers takes it right to the very heart of innovation considerations. Design is moving towards offering a business competency we can no longer ignore. Design can really differentiate and far too many innovators have not yet seen its enormous potential to cut itself out from the pack. Good design can do this.

Research today is telling us that design-driven companies are more innovative than others. How can you stop consumers in their tracks so they form an emotional association with what you are offering? This is where good design can help set you apart in so many unique ways others might find simply impossible to follow.


The Hidden Human Dimension of Innovation

Why do so many of us get fixated on new technologies, discoveries, inventions, the process, the structures, even the art of creativity within innovation? Certainly each of these have their important contributing part to play in building a coherency for innovation, but the ingredient that tops them all and often forgotten or assigned as the afterthought is people. People making innovation work, all the rest are the enablers to help them.

The Australian Business Foundation published a report last year- the Hidden Human Dimensions of Innovation ( and in part of a speech given by its Chief Executive, Narelle Kennedy at an Innovation 2009 conference she spoke of this people factor.

Let me quote as her comments are really powerful and help encourage people to conceive that innovation is more of a social process first, and not a technical one so often a misconception of many.

–  People are innovation’s active ingredient, the catalyst that turns novelty into real benefits for economies and communities. Benefits like jobs, wealth, productivity and life-changing progress”

–  The role of people in innovation is a fact that remains hidden in plain sight. It is axiomatic – everyone says it and believes it, but few understand anything at all about the human factors in innovation”

It is the pivotal role of people as innovation carriers – their networks, collaborations, knowledge flows, interactions and tacit knowledge – and how innovation itself is a potent competitive force that drives productivity”

–  People who innovate together capitalise on their tacit knowledge and informal know-how and on past strategic investments to “navigate the white-water risks” of innovation more successfully than their competitors.”

–  “It is tacit knowledge, accumulated experience and learning by doing result in a highly valuable intangible asset that boosts the innovation odds”

–  “(It is people who) form a community of practice with a clear intangible asset value in the form of intellectual capital and human capital”

–  “(People rely) on long term and sustained investments in strategic capacity-building and continuity of interpersonal innovation networks and gains in value by sharing and usage”.

Where I do feel Narelle Kennedy nicely sums up is a much needed re-think for innovation for it to really work and be valued for what it can truly offer comes from this statement:drawing on knowledge and creativity to add value in products and processes is an expansive view of innovation – new things or ways of working; knowledge and creativity; add value; products and processes – it is a dynamic view

Everything else today that does not place people in the centre of the innovation equation offers a dangerous misconception about innovation and why it should work.  It is our people that make it happen and we need to make innovation the social process it needs to be.

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Where consultants contribute to innovation

I have been concerned for quiet some time about the ‘state’ of the consulting industry when it comes to innovation. There are simply far too many out there offering pieces of the innovation equation. If I was a client I’d be getting fairly hacked off- different people, different approaches, styles, methods of working and that nagging feeling it does not fit any bigger picture.

How do we resolve this?

Combining all these islands of knowledge into some form of combined force would be a healthy step but before we go there I was thinking about what does an innovation consultant contribute and where?

Here are my opening thoughts on this:

A consultant’s perspective for contributing to innovation activity

Constructing, implementing and sustaining the innovation process is made up of:

  • Supporting the capturing of ideas effectively both internally and externally of the client and then subjecting them to independent evaluations by the consultants own understanding and getting others involved (i.e crowdsourcing)
  • Defining, supporting and communicating the long-range business strategy and the links with the innovation process alongside the leadership of the business.
  • Understanding the innovation planning process and how to achieve input across the enterprise to align and effectively deliver. Providing the ‘glue’ to help make this work.
  • Identifying and encouraging individuals with entrepreneurial skills;
  • Indentify and empower individuals with the necessary skills to act as innovation champions, supporters or leaders in an emerging innovation process.
  • Characterizing and delivering the customer’s needs; incorporating market links into the innovation planning process, seeing these with independent eyes.
  • Establishing innovation metrics based on monitoring the broader benefits generated by the application of the innovation technology/ service/ product/ concepts developed and actively encouraging these to be adopted and, yes, actually measured.
  • Positioning the cost and contribution of innovation in perspective and necessary returns. Show the client his  ROII (return on the innovation investment).

There are clearly many more I expect one can consider but  my point is this, they all point to the need of taking a  more ‘holistic’ approach to innovation by consultants.

As mentioned above, this holistic approach seems to be missing from many of the service offerings made by innovation consultants today- that of a complete view on innovation to provide good advice that is timely and more complete than the fragmented messages offered by many today.

Seven deadly sins of bloggers

I am a reluctant blogger, I tend to be someone that ‘reacts’ to others blogs. According to a ‘limited’ feedback I have been encouraged to start my own blog. I might regret this so I decided to provide as my first blog a piece of advise that I will try to avoid falling into, as typical sandtraps:

The Seven Deadly Sins of bloggers and aspiring thought leaders that we need reminding about.

1. Isolation

Blogging in increasing isolation and not having enough people reading and reacting to what you are suggesting. Then getting increasingly strident to gain people’s attention forgetting that too much sensationalism does not hold the attention long and thoughtfulness rules the day.

2. Neglect

Neglecting your knowledge source by not keeping it fresh enough is another common blogging sin. Forgetting your roots or true expertise and then ‘running ahead’ forgetting the contributions others provided to you to get you to this point.

3. Obstinacy

Obstinacy — the refusal to consider alternate courses of action — is another common bloggers sin. Never wanting to admit you were too harsh, plainly wrong or could have done it differently.

4. Favoritism

By choosing to blog on one subject only, and remaining indifferent to the others, a blogger becomes guilty of favoritism and eventually not balancing this one area in the real world of multiple options and considerations.

5. Myopia

The fifth bloggers sin, myopia, occurs when a blogger focuses too closely on the development of a single subject or preoccupation, simply just giving advice rather than focusing on building a sustainable practice. Anyone can create a single position to clarify personal vision. But lasting success can only be achieved as an ongoing development process.

6. Disconnection

Not including links between the different players and in so doing alienating sections of the community is the sixth bloggers sin. Even if they seem unrelated at first, linking them not only makes it easier for a growing understanding but moving a blogger from being just a purveyor of thoughts into someone that can lead and truly influence the community needs being fully alert and connected to the broad community..

7. Shortsightedness

Lastly, there’s shortsightedness, or not thinking far enough into the future to create a vision that links to why you are blogging in the first place. The beauty of the true ability to think is that you can delve into the future as far ahead as you like. How far ahead depends largely on what you want to achieve in your thought leadership or blogging.

Inspired by roadmapping deadly sins